With Osama bin Laden dead, and the al-Qaeda organization in disarray, the new enemy of the moment is Pakistan – a target Barack Obama had in his sights even before taking office. A recent piece in the New Yorker – that bellwether of elite Obama-bot opinion – goes after Pakistan with the by-now-familiar innuendos: they’re “double-dealing,” they hid bin Laden, they hate us in spite of the billions we give them in “aid,” etc. etc. The piece, by Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, attempts to put our Pakistan problem in historical perspective:
“It’s the end of the Second World War, and the United States is deciding what to do about two immense, poor, densely populated countries in Asia. America chooses one of the countries, becoming its benefactor. Over the decades, it pours billions of dollars into that country’s economy, training and equipping its military and its intelligence services. The stated goal is to create a reliable ally with strong institutions and a modern, vigorous democracy. The other country, meanwhile, is spurned because it forges alliances with America’s enemies.
“The country not chosen was India, which ‘tilted’ toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Pakistan became America’s protégé, firmly supporting its fight to contain Communism. The benefits that Pakistan accrued from this relationship were quickly apparent: in the nineteen-sixties, its economy was an exemplar. India, by contrast, was a byword for basket case. Fifty years then went by. What was the result of this social experiment?”
Note how Pakistan’s prosperity is due entirely to its proximity to American power, and India’s poverty to its distance. All roads lead to Rome.
“India has become the state that we tried to create in Pakistan. It is a rising economic star, militarily powerful and democratic, and it shares American interests. Pakistan, however, is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism.”
The rest of the article is all about Pakistan, filled with sly innuendo – but no actual evidence, naturally – implying Islamabad sheltered bin Laden “in a house that appeared to have been built expressly to protect him.” But what about wondrous India, that model “democracy” which shares unspecified “American interests”? From Wright we don’t get anything more than this brief encomium to its alleged virtues. But what is the reality?
There are those in the Obama administration who are now arguing we need to “tilt” toward India and abandon the one country – Pakistan – whose intelligence services have arrested and prosecuted more top al-Qaeda terrorists than all Western law enforcement agencies combined. Wright’s article is yet more fodder for their cannons. Yet the American people don’t know anything about India, or what is going on there: if they did – and especially the oh-so-“concerned” liberal middlebrow intellectuals who read the New Yorker – they would balk at Wright’s simplistic pro-India stance.
In its march toward “development,” and its eagerness to exploit vast natural resources, India has been waging a ferocious war against its own people, a vicious unrelenting campaign to expropriate lands now inhabited by tribal peoples and hand them over to huge politically-connected corporations, both Indian and multinational. It is called the Green Hunt,” and here is how the writer Arundhati Roy describes it:
“The Indian Constitution, the moral underpinning of Indian democracy, was adopted by Parliament in 1950. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The Constitution ratified colonial policy and made the State custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land. It denied them their traditional rights to forest produce, it criminalized a whole way of life. In exchange for the right to vote it snatched away their right to livelihood and dignity.“
Ah, democracy – isn’t it wonderful?
“Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand, the Government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population—for dams, irrigation projects, mines— it talked of ‘bringing tribals into the mainstream’ or of giving them ‘the fruits of modern development.’ Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the Government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it’s time to worry.”
I know Ms. Roy ‘s reputation as some kind of leftist: her sympathy for the Maoist rebels, while it never overcomes her revulsion at their tactics and the rigidity of their leaders, nevertheless comes through loud and clear. Yet her disdain for the “humanitarian” pretensions of soulless government bureaucrats intent on murder is delightful.
“The most recent expression of concern has come from the Home Minister P. Chidambaram who says he doesn’t want tribal people living in ‘museum cultures.’ The well -being of tribal people didn’t seem to be such a priority during his career as a corporate lawyer, representing the interests of several major mining companies. So it might be an idea to enquire into the basis for his new anxiety.
Over the past five years or so, the Governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal have signed hundreds of MOUs with corporate houses, worth several billion dollars, all of them secret, for steel plants, sponge-iron factories, power plants, aluminum refineries, dams and mines. In order for the MOUs to translate into real money, tribal people must be moved.
“Therefore, this war.”
Government-sponsored “militias” – armed and trained by the Israelis, India’s closest ally – are engaged in a coordinated campaign to flush the natives out of their centuries-old landholdings and herd them into camps, where they are guarded day and night by their government “benefactors.” Those who resist are slaughtered, raped, and driven off into the jungles – where they hook up with the Maoist rebels who have taken up their cause. The “Naxalites” are now deemed India’s number one “security threat,” and a counterinsurgency campaign has been launched to wipe them out, an effort whose slogan – “fight the guerrillas like a guerrilla” – might have been coined by Gen. David Petraeus and our own COIN-dinistas, who are trying the same thing in Afghanistan.
The Indian government takes its cut, and licenses the mining companies to loot the rest, as “government” lands are “privatized” and the original inhabitants driven into penury and government dependence. A government drive to “Hindu-ize” the tribal peoples was announced, and just as entire villages were bulldozed, their people herded like cattle, so even the place names of the region were abolished.
As Ms. Roy reports, the government, in league with the mining companies, has launched “an aggressive drive to ‘bring tribals back into the Hindu fold.” Disguised as a benevolent social engineering project which would lift the tribal peoples up – under the rubric of “corporate social responsibility”! – this involved, as Roy puts it,
“A campaign to denigrate tribal culture, induce self-hatred, and introduce Hinduism’s great gift—caste. The first converts, the village chiefs and big landlords— people like Mahendra Karma, founder of the Salwa Judum [the government-sponsored death squad] —were conferred the status of Dwij, twice born, Brahmins. (Of course this was a bit of a scam, because nobody can become a Brahmin. If they could, we’d be a nation of Brahmins by now.) But this counterfeit Hinduism is considered good enough for tribal people, just like the counterfeit brands of everything else—biscuits, soap, matches, oil—that are sold in village markets. As part of the Hindutva drive the names of villages were changed in land records, as a result of which most have two names now, peoples’ names and government names. Innar village for example, became Chinnari. On voters lists tribal names were changed to Hindu names. (Massa Karma became Mahendra Karma.) Those who did not come forward to join the Hindu fold were declared ‘Katwas’ (by which they meant Untouchables) who later became the natural constituency for the Maoists.”
If ever there was a case of Big Government gone wild – gone murderous – it is the Indian government’s efforts to eradicate the culture and property rights of tribal peoples, whose resources are supposedly protected by the Indian Constitution. But that’s only on paper. In reality … well, here, let Roy tell it:
“The perennial problem, the real bane of peoples’ lives was the biggest landlord of all, the Forest Department. Every morning forest officials, even the most junior of them, would appear in villages like a bad dream, preventing people from ploughing their fields, collecting firewood, plucking leaves, picking fruit, grazing their cattle, from living. They brought elephants to overrun fields and scattered babool seeds to destroy the soil as they passed by. People would be beaten, arrested, humiliated, their crops destroyed. Of course, from the Forest Department’s point of view, these were illegal people engaged in unconstitutional activity, and the Department was only implementing the Rule of Law. (Their sexual exploitation of women was just an added perk in a hardship posting).”
"Illegal people” – who have to be swept out of the way, like so much detritus. In India, the Rule of Law doesn’t protect the property and heritage of native peoples – only the profits of politically-connected corporations, who buy off politicians and the media, and have the power of the State at their command.
Millions have been displaced, tens of thousands murdered by government “militias,” and the result has been the rise of an insurgency that makes the Taliban look relatively tame in comparison. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI) took up the natives’ cause, and its brutal tactics and fanatic ideology have created a battlefield marked by utter devastation.
The response of the Indian government has been a crackdown that challenges Wright’s description of India as some kind of model “democracy.” The enactment of “anti-sedition” laws has empowered the government to arrest anyone who exhibits even the vaguest sympathy for the insurgents. As the Asia Times reports:
“According to Section 124(a) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), ‘Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.’”
The Indian government is engaged in a genocidal campaign against its own native peoples, who have been marginalized and targeted as the latest victims in the country’s forced march to “development.” If this is “democracy,” then what is tyranny?
Before our armchair geo-strategists decide that the US ought to align with India, they had better stop and contemplate the mess we are about to get into. An Indo-American alliance would involve our complicity in the extermination of an entire people – to say nothing of India’s seizure and virtual annexation of Kashmir, where the same counterinsurgency tactics [.pdf] are being utilized, with similar results.
India is a vast prison house of peoples, whose government is barely able to keep control of its many separatist-minded provinces – and yet the Brahmins of New Delhi imagine themselves the rulers of a rising superpower, with ambitions to dominate all of South Asia. Before we abandon Pakistan and take up with India, we had better think about the consequences of our actions.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Hold on, I’ve got to take another pill… There: my, that was a big one!
As you can see, I’m not well. I should be sitting out in the garden, resting as the good doctor sternly instructed, and yet this medication makes me nervous, twitchy – and that’s not all that makes me nervous.
What really sets my poor nerves on edge is that this fundraiser – our sole means of support, our very lifeline – seems about to turn into a disaster, and I can’t help thinking that surely by the end of it a few heads will roll, Perhaps my own. No matter: like a diver poised over a frigid lake, I must plunge into my task, and continue begging my readers for money.
As you can see, I’m playing this “sick” business for all it’s worth: that’s true desperation for you! And I am getting more than a little desperate, as I watch the “mercury” in the thermometer on the front page inch up, ever so slowly and painfully.
Yes, it’s painful to watch, almost unbearable: so much depends on its ascent – much more than my own illusions and exaggerated sense of self-importance. And yet, is it really an illusion that an independent antiwar movement can be built – or that the American people can be educated out of their passivity in the face of a rapacious imperialism? Is it really just wishful thinking that there is at least one rock solid institution that can defy the tides and turns of politics and stand up for a more peaceful world – no matter which party is in power?
For fifteen years I’ve had plenty of evidence to the contrary: in the consistent support of my readers. You write me letters: words of praise, angry notes, corrections, rebuttals, and even a few love letters (!). One girl, whom I never met, would send me cartons of cigarettes, which she knew – somehow sensed – I couldn’t afford: she once sent me a mug with my name emblazoned on it in Gothic letters. I still have it, and treasure it – just as I treasure all the gifts that have appeared out of the internet ether lo these many years. Her care packages were not requested, and so there was no anxiety waiting for their arrival: in the case of the fundraising campaign, on the other hand, I don’t have the luxury of being surprised.
Alright now, I’ll get to the point: we’re broke, and can’t continue on like this – not unless this fundraising campaign begins to show some sign of succeeding. Without your financial support, we’re going down.
There you have it: the blunt truth. Now, what are you going to do about it?